Tag Archives: The Reader

Why We Read: 70 writers on non-fiction, edited by Josephine Greywoode (Penguin, £8.99)

With seventy writers to chose from, mostly known figures from the intellectual world, there’s going to be some controversy in this book, though not as much as I expected. Many say similar things, but Steven Pinker and Richard J. Evans offer competing thoughts.
Piner, makes compelling points about literacy (which few would argue with) and ends “… educated people really are more enlightened. They are less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and authoritarian. They place a higher value on imagination, independence and free speech. They are more likely to vote, volunteer, express politcal view and belong to civic organisations… They are also likelier to trust their fellow citizens…”
Though not mentioned in Pinker’s article, he could be talking about Trump’s America. So – fellow educated people, fellow readers – we are just basically nice.
But are we? Richard J. Evans points out that “… the perpetrators of the mass murder of Europe’s Jews were in many cases highly educated. Indeed, the higher up you go in the hierarchy of the SS … the more likely you are to find men with advanced educational qualifications. …” In another book – though I do not have a reference to hand – I read about the legal, scientific and medical qualifications of the whole Nazi leadership. Pretty well educated, in short. Evans remarks “The ability to read in itself does not make you morally upright or responsible.” Just as I am typing these words it comes back to me that my source for the educational qualifications of the leading Nazis may have been an article about The Reader by Bernard Schlink. A great book and film, which, however, posits that the reason one particularly sadistic female war criminal acted that way was because she was illiterate.
As if to prove Evans’ point, Geoffrey Roberts, the author of Stalin’s Library wrote recently in the New Statesman that “the key to understanding both Stalin and his dictatorship is that he was an intellectual”.
Still, as one of the intellectuals least likely to find a home on the shelves at Five Leaves Bookshop closes his piece, “It would be a shame to lose reading”.
The collection, by the way, split equally between male and female writers, and is a lot broader than the discussion above.
Why We Read is available here: fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/product/why-we-read/
Ross Bradshaw

The Reader, edited by Philip Davis (The Reader Organisation, quarterly, £6.95)

reader_54_web_coverThe Reader Organisation is a large, dynamic and well-funded organisation which, typically, runs reading projects in prisons, care homes and other areas to improve health and well-being by reading projects. Of course TRO might argue it is small, dynamic and underfunded, but with arts money so tight it is good to see that a fair amount of it does go to such a worthwhile project.

One of its projects is The Reader, a quarterly, devoted not to its social and welfare activity but to discuss books and authors seriously but accessibly, in an attractive format. Naturally editions vary but the issue I’ve just read is from Spring. It includes fiction from May-Lan Tan, who we’ll hear a lot more of in the future, an interview with Erwin Jones about prisons (Jones was a lifer who turned away from crime to write about prisons for the Guardian), regular writer Jane Davis remembering Doris Lessing and the ever entertaining regular Ian McMillan writing about his dawn tweeting and walks to the shop. The reading Recommendations feature this issue is on “rights of passage” novels. That there is a feature on Tolstoy and a really hard books quiz at the back tells you this isn’t for everyone. I’m not even sure it is for me every issue, but always worth checking out.

Ross Bradshaw